The number of Australians escaping cities for regional areas is the highest since 2018

(Tim Graham, Getty Images)
  • The number of people escaping capital cities to regional Australia has reached its highest level since 2018, as a trend kickstarted by the pandemic persists into its second year.
  • A new report developed by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) examines the migration trends reshaping regional Australia as city-dwellers seek tree changes and those living in the regions stay put.
  • The number of people who made a move away from cities in the March 2021 quarter was 7% higher than the same period in 2020, it found.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

New research examining the pandemic-driven exodus out of capital cities has found the number of people moving to regional Australia is at its highest level since 2018.

Quantified in a new report by regional think tank the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the research reveals the highest population growth has occurred in the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast in Queensland, followed by Geelong in Victoria and Newcastle in NSW.

It found that migration to the Sunshine Coast grew by 24% in the first three months of 2021, and 14% over the past year.

The local government area (LGA) also attracted 11% of all people who moved regionally from a capital city.

The Sunshine Coast saw a 24% quarterly increase in migration, followed by Geelong with a 9% increase, and Newcastle with a 13% increase.

The report also showed that the number of people who made a move away from cities in the March 2021 quarter was 7% higher than the same period in 2020.

In terms of annual growth, Launceston in Tasmania saw an 88% increase in migration from capital cities.

The annual growth in capital to regional migration jumped by 50% in Southern Downs in Queensland, 48% in Fraser Coast in Queensland and 31% in Port Macquarie in NSW.

And despite media coverage around a mass exodus from capital cities as lockdowns forced white collar workers to work from home, the report suggests a greater portion of movers responded to changes to working and living conditions as they persisted into 2021.

Movement out of capital cities actually declined by 11% in the June 2020 quarter as a result of lockdown restrictions, but has been on the increase ever since.

While residents of Australia’s capital cities have increasingly moved into the regions, the RAI’s data shows those living in regional areas have overwhelmingly stayed put, leading to an increase in net migration.

“The pandemic-driven acceleration of net regional migration indicates that those already in regional areas are finding reasons to stay while city dwellers are finding compelling reasons to relocate rather than stay in the various capitals,” the report says.

These dynamics have driven the net regional migration index in the latest quarter to be 66% higher than in 2020.

The think tank, which is dedicated to identifying opportunities for the development of regional Australia, said it wants the The Regional Movers Index to better track population growth hot spots, particularly during periods of rapid change, and help shape policy to enable regional areas to manage population growth.

Liz Ritchie, chief executive of the RAI said the Regional Movers Index gave decision makers, including government, additional data intelligence to plan for the country’s growth.

“This new index enables the early identification of growth trends and flags emerging hot spots which may need fresh thinking on housing and infrastructure,” Ritchie said.

“The index tracks metro-movers down to a local government area and will report just one month after each quarter, compared with official data which is less detailed and has a reporting gap of four months.”